August 1, 2014

Gold Rush

If Philip Peck had been born in the 16th century, his status as a gold artist of high distinction would have been easier to achieve. He would have begun apprenticing with a famous goldsmith at the age of 12 or so and would emerge years later in the court of a European Renaissance prince creating golden jewelry and small sculptures of precious metals and gems for a noble family of patrons who would appreciate his work and preserve it for generations until selected pieces made their way into museums and major collections. He might have attained the lasting fame of Benvenuto Cellini or, centuries later, of Carl Faberge.

But Peck was born in the 20th century in America, and instead of relying on the guild system of apprenticing, he had to work it all out for himself. After graduating from the New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, he formed his own plan for apprenticing with the best goldsmiths and jewelers in the world. He labored in their famous studios for years until e he'd attained the proper level of technical knowledge and artistic mastery of the ancient techniques. Then he confidently opened his own studio. Now you can visit it in Naples.

The elegant space on Third Street is somewhere between an upscale boutique and a museum but offers a much more relaxed ambience than either. And in contrast to a museum, here you can handle-and buy-the exquisite pieces of gold, platinum, enamel and gemstone jewelry. Peck's original gallery is in Huntington Valley, Pa., which is where the artist met Kathleen Mitchell (she was managing a jewelry store and he supplied some of their better pieces of inventory) and where they married. Their own gallery opened in 1992. Last November, they unveiled the Naples store. "So many of our clients are in this part of the country, it seemed a logical move," Kathleen says. "We wanted a small city where people have a high level of taste and where we could be around other artists. Naples is surely that place. The bonus is that it's so pretty."

Peck designed the display cabinetry and pedestals in the gallery, and they reflect his admiration for classic themes. Notice the beautiful silver hardware on the cabinets and carved gold ornamentation on the pedestal boxes. There are no counters. Clients sit at a glamorous European desk and sip wine while they try on and talk about jewelry. The gallery also has another special feature-a clubroom for men who want to consult about gentlemen's jewelry in a more private setting. In the ventilated, intimate room, one can close the door and light up a cigar or pipe, sip some wine and try on pieces in total comfort.

A good deal of the comfort level inherent in the Mitchell-Peck studio has to do with the amiable Kathleen Mitchell. She wears several pieces of her husband's jewelry every day and loves to chat with clients about the laborious process of crafting museum-quality jewelry. Her mother is the bookkeeper for the enterprise and her 32-year old-son Patrick (who is single, his mom wants us to know) has worked with Philip for the past nine years and has himself become an accomplished enamelist. Applying enamel to gold is the jeweler's way of bringing an array of colors to a piece of jewelry that doesn't feature colorful gems. The skill it takes to make molten bits of glass into leaves, birds and flowers is of rarefied caliber, setting artists apart from ordinary jewelers.

Prices for Mitchell-Peck pieces in the gallery range from $3,000 to about $60,000. Commissioned art works can run higher, depending upon size and kinds of gemstones woven into the object. About 50 percent of the studio's work is devoted to custom pieces, and not everything is jewelry. Peck creates boxes, pens, shoehorns, hand-held mirrors, even chalices for churches. He's always open to new ideas. All of the earrings in the gallery are clip-style-the correct type of backing for earrings to be perfectly balanced on the lobe, according to Mitchell. Let her try a few on you and you'll be convinced.

Mitchell-Peck Jewelers Goldsmiths

1144 Third St. S., Naples. 659-5956.

Miromar Outlets is a genuine roadside attraction for bargain hunters, and you can easily spot it from I-75 at the Corkscrew Road exit between Naples and Fort Myers. The big, open-air mall rises like a modern American fantasy-invention of a Tuscan hill town, with its tile roofs, towers, arches and rosy terra-cotta colors. It's organized like a small village, with shops instead of residences and a big, pretty fountain at its center. The fountain is the right place to agree to meet at a certain time if you get lost from your party. Believe me, it happens. Shoppers and the romantically hopeful throw coins into the fountain, and the mall management gathers them up and donates the change to charity.

There are some 140 stores at Miromar, offering name-brand products at less than the usual retail price. Everyone has favorites, but sometimes I stop at Miromar and never get past Off 5th, the Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet. Not only are the clothing buys outstanding, but the housewares and home d├ęcor luxuries are inspiring. Many of us shop year-round at Off 5th, loading up on elegant candles, potpourri, wine glasses, picture frames and pricey linens and squirreling them away for birthdays, holiday gift giving and those times when you need the perfect little hostess gift. Recently I stocked up on, of all things, Anna Griffin (known for her high-end wedding invitations) file folders. They were $4.99 for a package in either a tender toile pattern or a luscious botanical print in pinks and yellows. Why would you ever resist?

Buying at the low end isn't really the smartest way to mine the treasures of a discount mall or outlet stores like Off 5th, Ralph Lauren, Escada, Tommy Hilfiger, St. John or Donna Karan. The best deals are at the high end. With a vast luxury mall such as Miromar laid at your feet, don't waste time chasing a 40-percent reduction on a $50 piece of clothing. You can get that kind of a discount several times a year at Dillard's and Burdines. No, you want to head for the most upscale department and get 50 to 75 percent off the $800-and-up items. I advise you go straight for the $1,000 black-and-white Giorgio Armani black silk V-neck day dress that Off 5th had priced on my last visit at $419. Now you're talking a brilliant buy. Also impressive was a Chetta B evening frock with a black sequin collar I spotted for $147. Its original price had been $520. You go home with a quality brand, a frock of superior craftsmanship, and a price that will make you look like the smartest woman in your stock club.

Find shoes by Prada, Tod's ($120 for a driving shoe with white sequins), Ralph Lauren, Ferragamo, Jimmy Choo, Donald Pliner and Kate Spade. Of course, the skimpiest selection is often in size eight because that's the most popular. And I find that outlet malls often carry more of the narrow-width shoes than other places. If you're fortunate enough to have slim, aristocratic tootsies, believe me, you can clean up.

Off 5th now carries Judith Leiber evening bags, too. I spied a sparkly beauty that retails for $2,600 now priced at $1,569. The glass case, which must be unlocked by a sales associate, held at least a dozen glamorous JL objects of desire. Also under lock and key were watches by Gucci and Raymond Weil.

But there's more to the mall than Off 5th and clothes. I'm addicted to the Coach accessories emporium (it smells of delicious quality leather), Dansk, Royal Doulton and the Lenox china.

A store I never miss browsing in complete wonderment is Strasburg Children. You have never seen such gossamer outfits for tiny fairy princesses and dapper little princes. Fine fabrics, exquisite detailing. There are christening outfits ($200), dresses for children participating in a wedding, as well as holiday and birthday frocks and suits-all of them improbably gorgeous with trim of seed pearls, lace, ribbons and fancy needlework. Sizes from infant to 14 for girls and to size six for boys. Strasburg stocks a full line of precious accessories, too, including jewelry, fancy gala shoes, flower garlands, pixie wings, even tiaras. There's even a signature line of dolls ($50) that measure 18 inches tall and have outfits that match ones on the racks for real little girls. Strasburg is the biggest parent and grandparent trap in the mall. Go ahead: Let yourself be caught. Even if you're not buying anything for a child, Strasburg Children is well worth a browse just to see what's available in the marketplace today for young fashionables.

The Miromar public restrooms are much nicer and more comfortable that you're probably expecting and even include expansive mirrors in case you want to try on something you just bought. Mall owners have also thought of a play area for kids and a service station on-site if you want to fill up before heading home.

If you're spending the day at Miromar, you'll be glad to know there are plenty of places to eat. Select a Mexican cantina, Italian trattoria or Seattle bistro coffee bar where you can dine inside or relax out in the fresh air at a table overlooking a lake. Your view is to the TECO Arena across the water. For less money and more choice there's the regulation food court, where you can get a burger, hot dog, pizza, deli and snack foods. At Cheeburger, Cheeburger, you select the size of your personal burger and are charged by the weight. I like this idea and the tasty burger.

Miromar Outlets

I-75 Exit 123, Corkscrew Road, Estero. 948-3766. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

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